Timeless recap: ‘The Murder of Jesse James’
Welcome to the wild, wild west
Over the weekend, Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones stopped by the Weekend Update desk to talk about African-American history and representation in pop culture. In between praising Hidden Figures and calling Colin Jost a “creamy slice of provolone cheese,” Jones gave a shoutout to her “favorite show, Timeless on NBC, Monday nights at 10 p.m.”
Jones has long been a champion of the show on Twitter, and one of the things that makes Timeless so special, she’s argued, is that it draws attention to little-known historical figures, especially badass women and people of color whose accomplishments have been forgotten. (Think Judith Campbell and Nonhelema.) This time around, as Jones pointed out on SNL, Timeless turns its eye to a real-life person few of us know about, even if we’re all familiar with the character he inspired: The Lone Ranger.
It’s about time Timeless headed to the wild West, and the lawless frontier makes the perfect setting for an episode that’s both action packed and thoughtful (and one of the strongest episodes yet).
All three of our heroes are grappling with major personal dilemmas: dilemmas they can’t help but carry with them as they travel back in time. Lucy is still struggling with the erasure of her sister, and the more she continues to live her life without Amy, the more guilt she feels. Rufus, meanwhile, has been sucked right back in Rittenhouse’s clutches. Last week, he informed Connor Mason that as long as Rittenhouse needs a pilot, they can’t touch him. So, Connor and Rittenhouse responded by training a new pilot: Jiya. It’s great that Jiya is finally getting some additional stuff to do — besides standing in the background and yelling things like, “Flynn just landed in 1934!” — but this complicates Rufus’ life immensely. Not only does this mean that his girlfriend will soon be drawn into Rittenhouse’s scheme, but as soon as she’s trained (a process Connor says will take about six months), Rufus will suddenly be expendable. Not good.
As for poor Wyatt, he’s finally acting on the information Flynn gave him: the name of his wife’s killer. He sets up a confrontational meeting with the man in jail, begging him to confess, and the man tells him: “I know exactly who you are, Wyatt Logan. And I know who Jessica is, too. And if I could change things, I would. But I can’t. Neither of us can.” Wyatt’s reply? He simply whispers: “Not unless I had a time machine.”
Okay, first of all, that’s not really a confession. It’d be one thing if the man flat out told Wyatt, “Yeah, dude, I killed your wife,” but instead he has to give this ridiculous non-confession, which makes me think this is all misdirection and this guy is not actually Jessica Logan’s killer. And second of all: Wyatt! You can’t go around making cryptic references to time machines! I’m pretty sure you signed a strict nondisclosure agreement! You gotta be more careful about this kind of stuff!
So, as you can see, by the time our trio heads back in time to April 3, 1882, they’re carrying a lot of baggage with them. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of time to dwell on their problems, as Flynn has tracked down and prevented the murder of notorious outlaw Jesse James. As Rufus puts it: “Why does Flynn want Jesse James? Great psychos think alike?” Something like that.
See, Flynn needs James’ help in tracking someone down, and if you’re going to navigate hostile territory, you’re gonna need a gunslinger like James on your side. (As an alternative, I suppose Flynn could have taken all his modern-day weapons and several of his henchmen with him and skipped the James part altogether, but I guess that wouldn’t have been nearly as narratively interesting.) Before long, Flynn learns that dealing with the narcissistic James is more than he bargained for, as the outlaw isn’t really one for keeping his head down. When cornered by marshals in a saloon, he’d rather gleefully announce his presence and shoot them dead than slip out the back door.
Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt aren’t too keen to follow Flynn into the wilderness without some sort of guide, so Lucy comes up with the brilliant idea to find and recruit an even more badass historical figure: Bass Reeves. Who? One of the country’s first black deputy marshals — and the man who’s believed to have inspired the Lone Ranger. That’s right: Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt literally have the Lone Ranger on their side. Not bad.
NEXT: Wanted, alive or alive
As Timeless presents him, Bass Reeves is straight-up awesome. Not only is he an accomplished lawman, but both he and his cohort Grant (a part-Native American cowboy who’s suggested to be the inspiration for Tonto, only way more badass) are entirely committed to justice and righteousness. They both agree to hunt down Jesse James, on one condition: They bring him in alive.
As for Flynn, he finally finds the person he’s been tracking: a woman named Emma Whitmore. Even more shockingly, she’s a stranded time traveler! And her cabin is full of laptops and Ticonderoga pencils and things! Thanks to some helpful explanatory voiceover from Flynn (and a few Mason Industries videos that Jiya unearths, back at the lab), we learn that she was one of the original pilots for Mason Industries. She and Anthony were the first to ever successfully travel through time, but it didn’t take long for Rittenhouse to recruit her and force her to do terrible things. To save herself and the people she loved, she faked her death and has been hiding out for the last 10 years in the wilderness of 1882. (Or, roughly 10 years. She has a copy of The Hunger Games, which came out in 2008.)
This, of course, raises the question: Why Missouri in 1882? Why not, like, Miami in 1970? A time with somewhat modern medicine? Or if Rittenhouse is controlling American history, why not somewhere NOT IN AMERICA. How about Fiji? Fiji is a good place to hide from a top-secret murderous organization.
Anyway, Flynn convinces Emma to come with him — if I hadn’t read anything other than The Hunger Games in 10 years, I’d probably jump at the chance to go back to the future, too — and he prepares to part ways with Jesse James, but not before James makes one last request… or demand. He wants Flynn’s fancy, high-tech, modern machine gun. Flynn acquiesces, but there is no way in hell this is going to end well.
Our trio, along with Bass and Grant, finally find their way to Emma’s cabin, where Rufus is shocked to recognize her jumpsuit and heaps of modern technology. But before they can investigate any further, James fires upon the cabin with glee, reveling in his new toy and killing Grant. After the gun runs out of bullets, Wyatt corners James and is prepared to shoot and kill him, both fulfilling history and finding solace in the fact that if he can’t punish his wife’s killer, he can at least stop another bad man from killing other people. But before he can pull the trigger, Bass shows up and holds them in a three-person standoff, warning Wyatt that no matter how cruel James is, it’s immoral to shoot an injured, unarmed man. “You have a choice, son,” he tells Wyatt.
Just then, a shot rings out, and James is killed. Shockingly, it was neither Bass nor Wyatt, but Lucy. This is the first time we’ve seen Lucy kill someone, and although James was by no means a good man, she still pulled the trigger in cold blood. Bass is disappointed, and as he rides off into the sunset, he leaves Lucy with this advice: “Killing an injured man when he said he wished to surrender, that’s a lot of things. Good ain’t one of ‘em, and you’ll live with it.” When the Lone Ranger tells you he’s disappointed with you, that’s gonna stick.
So, our trio is no closer to finding Flynn, defeating Rittenhouse, or even addressing any of their own problems. Lucy is slipping deeper into a spiral of regret and guilt, Rufus is worried about Jiya, and Wyatt is still dead set on exacting revenge on his wife’s killer. Finally, our heroes’ stories are starting to click into place, and when you add a thrilling adventure story involving Jesse James and the Lone Ranger, you’ve got a pretty solid episode.
And as if things weren’t complicated enough already, Wyatt has decided to throw a wrench in the whole thing, hosting a secret meeting in a bar and imploring Rufus to help him steal the Lifeboat and prevent his wife’s death. You’d think that by now, Wyatt would realize that exactly zero of their time-traveling missions so far have turned out the way they’d hoped, but hey. There’s a first time for everything?
Best Rufus one-liner: “It’s like the scary version of Blazing Saddles.”